Brewbound Podcast Episode 006: Sam Calagione on Craft Beer’s ‘Smiling Jaws of Death’

Delaware’s Dogfish Head Craft Brewery is bucking industry trends, growing off-premise volume sales at a double-digit clip, while many other similarly sized craft beer companies struggle to stay out of the red.

So how is Dogfish doing it?

If you asked co-founder and CEO Sam Calagione, he’d tell you that a relentless focus on producing high-quality and well-differentiated beers has helped his company avoid being chewed up by what he calls the “smiling jaws of death.”

“There is the lower jaw, that has tons and tons of tiny teeth – which are the local and hyperlocal breweries, mostly oriented toward the tasting room,” he said. “And then the top level, there are the big ass teeth. The volume brands that are either indie brands like Dogfish, and Sam Adams, and Sierra, and Yuengling, and Bell’s. And then affiliate brands, that are really owned by global conglomerates, but market themselves like they are American indie craft breweries.”

Calagione believes that, as the industry approaches 7,000 craft breweries, successful beer companies will need to either remain small and hyperlocal or be forced to invest large amounts of money in an effort to “break through the noise of the top 50 brands,” and “go up the ladder of your distributors.”

“There are very little opportunities in-between,” he told Brewbound. “There are breweries that are over their skis in terms of investment in their equipment, but also over their skis in terms of five, 10, 20-state distribution networks, but they don’t have the resources to support a broad geographic distribution base.”

In episode six of the Brewbound Podcast, editor Chris Furnari and Calagione discuss how Dogfish Head is “navigating the noise” of 7,000 small breweries, how other craft breweries can grow without taking on too much debt, and how Dogfish Head has financed its own expansion in recent years.

Throughout the conversation, conducted during Dogfish Head’s annual distributor meeting last month in Baltimore, Calagione explains the benefits of remaining a small, taproom-focused brewery in today’s competitive marketplace, why he is bullish on the Brewers Association’s independent craft brewer seal, and how he envisions the marketplace evolving in the coming years.

Also in this episode: Furnari and Brewbound assistant editor Justin Kendall share the latest news and run down segments.

Listen to episode six of the Brewbound Podcast above, as well as on iTunes. The episode is also available on Google Play, Stitcher, Spotify, and Soundcloud. New episodes of the Brewbound Podcast, which is co-hosted by Furnari and Kendall, are published every Thursday.

Episode seven, featuring Hops & Grain founder Josh Hare, will be released on Thursday, October 25.

For questions, comments or suggestions, please email podcast@brewbound.com.

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Brewbound Podcast

The Brewbound Podcast features interviews with beer industry executives and entrepreneurs, along with highlights and commentary from the weekly news. New episodes every Thursday.